I'm trying to teach my 11 year old son a bit of bass guitar. My main instrument is double bass and my efforts on bass guitar are entirely self-taught.

We've hit a roadblock: he cannot get a clear tone from C# played with his fourth finger on the A string in first position. (We've not tried G# on the E string yet.) It's a short-scale bass and it seems fine when I play it. He has average sized hands for an 11 year old.

I've been telling him to press with the hard tips of his fingers, not the fleshy bit, with his first finger just behind the second fret, the third finger just behind the third fret, and the third and forth fingers together just behind the fourth fret. I've told him to keep his knuckles slightly bent and he has great difficulty with this - his fourth finger knuckle in particularly wants to bend the wrong way. He also keeps scrunching his four fingers up together rather than keeping them spread out behind their respective frets. He's also tending to push the string sideways rather than straight down onto the fingerboard.

It's got to the stage where he seems to have decided it is too difficult and is giving up.

Firstly, am I giving him good advice? I realise I've adapted my technique from the double bass. Secondly, what can I do to help him not give up?

I'm sure the effort to crack this problem will be well worth it, but I need to convince him of that. I don't want him to end up with a terrible technique that will soon start holding him back. (I did consider suggesting he shift position to play the C# with his second finger, but dismissed that because he'll have no dexterity with a technique like that.)

3 Answers 3


The first question I would ask is: Is the bass set up well? You must take into account someone with not a lot of hand strength who is just starting and not yourself who has years of experience holding down strings on an upright with higher action. The nut height, action and neck relief can all impact whether an instrument is easy to play or not, especially for a beginner. Too much neck relief will cause an instrument to be hard to play starting around the 4th or 5th frets and get progressively worse as you go higher.

Moving on from there, there’s nothing wrong with using basic 3 finger upright technique on electric. I would even say it’s necessary in some cases because most people can’t comfortably spread 4 fingers across 4 frets on a bass, especially in the low register.

That being said, you understand the importance of good technique and hand position. An 11 year old does not, at least not on the same level. He also is not able to do things with his hands and fingers that are second nature and seemingly very easy to you. If while teaching him you spend a lot of time trying to get him to curve his pinky and spread and put all his fingers on a string he will get bored and discouraged. If you get him playing bass lines, even if it is with less than perfect fingering and technique he will enjoy it more. Focus more on playing music than technique. As his motor memory improves and his hands and fingers get stronger he should be more able and receptive to improving his technique and fingering.


I have zero experience at teaching, also at being a father, but are you sure it's the fact he's not quite got it yet that's making him want to give up… or that you're standing over him making him do it your way, rather than just letting him get on with it & finagling his technique when he's stronger?

I didn't start playing bass until I was 13 [this is 50 years ago;) & was 6ft tall & strong for my age. I'm still pretty sure I didn't have a great technique at that point. I'd been playing piano 5 or 6 years so already had some finger strength & dexterity.
The band I was in at the time had a 'rock n' roll/blues' medley we did that was about 7 minutes long. That's how I learned to better hold the 4th fret… eventually. Seven minutes of E, G♯, B, C♯, D & back, then transpose up a 4th & 5th as appropriate gave me lots of practise.

I had no-one teaching me - in fact my father wanted to buy me a pair of running shoes rather than a bass & amp, as he said I'd be interested in it for longer;)

Maybe a lighter string gauge & just leave him to it for a while.

  • 1
    You're completely right about a light touch and letting him get on with it, but I've been doing that and he's not really got anywhere on his own. I want to motivate him by helping him learn a very simple song that he can then play in a band. My question was really to confirm whether or not the technique I'm trying to help him achieve is correct for bass guitar, or whether there is a better way.
    – Ian Goldby
    Jul 4 at 14:05
  • 1
    Even being a career bassist, after having taught a lot of beginners and kids in particular I tend to agree with your basic (I’m paraphrasing) “just get it done however you can for now” approach. People who can already do the things that the OP talks about like curving and spreading the fingers don’t understand how difficult that can be to someone just starting out. You probably will be getting a visit from the enharmonic police for: “E, A♭, B, D♭, D” pretty soon though. Jul 4 at 14:21
  • 1
    @JohnBelzaguy - that probably serves me right for trying to outguess myself. All sharps? I'll fix it ;))
    – Tetsujin
    Jul 4 at 14:37
  • 1
    I wish I could accept two answers. I'm going to fret less (pun intended) about technique, and just try to get him playing stuff and enjoying it.
    – Ian Goldby
    Jul 5 at 7:12

Why on Earth should anyone keep the other fingers over the lower frets when playing with the pinky? It's a pointless exercise. Slide the whole hand up, and if he can't play a clean note on fret 4 with pinky, then use pinky and ring. I often find myself (small hands, standard 5 string bass) using mainly index and pinky, and sliding along as necessary.

That apart, why does the C♯ if the C♯ has to be played there, one plays the A on bottom string, 5th fret, middle finger, and that C♯ with index, leaving a smaller stretch for perhaps the E on A string, 7th fret.

  • Well, I personally find the other fingers help take some of the pressure off my 4th finger, as well as being already in position for playing B and C. But as I said my technique comes from double bass where this is standard technique. The reason for playing C# at the 4th fret on the A string is so he doesn't have to move his whole hand. Is that wrong on bass guitar?
    – Ian Goldby
    Jul 4 at 13:41
  • 1
    “That apart, why does the C♯ have to be played there, when there's a substitute a fret lower on the next string?” This doesn’t make sense to me, the only places to play that C# on a four string bass are the A String 4th fret or the E string 9th fret. Jul 4 at 14:11
  • I mostly agree with this answer, but "why does the C♯ have to be played there"- because it sounds great, it's conveniently placed, and the inability to play that note is a major handicap to a bass player. Also, there isn't a C# a fret lower on the next string. Is the substitute a different note?
    – Edward
    Jul 4 at 14:12
  • @JohnBelzaguy - my fault. I was thinking of A on the bottom string! Will edit accordingly.
    – Tim
    Jul 4 at 15:15
  • 2
    @IanGoldby - also consider encouraging him to hold the bass with the head high - so the attitude is more string bass-like. It alleviates a lot of the difficult angles involved when having the bass horizontal.
    – Tim
    Jul 5 at 8:30

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.